Line 71:  parents


With commendable alacrity, Professor Hurley produced an Appreciation of John Shade’s published works within a month after the poet’s death.  It came out in a skimpy literary review, whose name momentarily escapes me, and was shown to me in Chicago where I interrupted for a couple of days my automobile journey from New Wye to Cedarn, in these grim autumnal mountains.


A Commentary where placid scholarship should reign is not the place for blasting the preposterous defects of that little obituary.  I have only mentioned it because that is where I gleaned a few meager details concerning the poet’s parents.  His father, Samuel Shade, who died at fifty, in 1902, had studied medicine in his youth and was vice-president of a firm of surgical instruments in Exton.  His chief passion, however, was what our eloquent necrologist calls “the study of the feathered tribe,” adding that “a bird has been named for him:  Bombycilla Shadei” (this should be “shadei,” of course).  The poet’s mother, nee Caroline Lukin, assisted him in his work and drew the admirable figures of his Birds of Mexico, which I remember having seen in my friend’s house.  What the obituarist does not know is that Lukin comes from Luke, as also do Locock and Luxon and Lukashevich.  It represents one of the many instances when the amorphous-looking but live and personal hereditary patronymic grows, sometimes in fantastic shapes, around the common pebble of a Christian name.  The Lukins are an old Essex family.  Other names derive from professions such as Rymer, Scrivener, Limner (one who illuminates parchments), Botkin (one who makes bottekins, fancy footwear) and thousands of others.  My tutor, a Scotsman, used to call any old tumble-down building “a hurley-house.”  But enough of this.


A few other items concerning John Shade’s university studies and the middle years of his singularly uneventful life can be looked up by his reader in the professor’s article.  It would have been on the whole a dull piece had it not been enlivened, it that is the term, by certain special features.  Thus, there is only one allusion to my friend’s masterpiece (the neatly stacked batches of which, as I write this, lie in the sun on my tables as so many ingots of fabulous metal) and this I transcribe with morbid delight:  “Just before our poet’s untimely death he seems to have been working on an autobiographical poem.”  The circumstances of this death are completely distorted by the professor, a faithful follower of the gentlemen of the daily press who—perhaps for political reasons—had falsified the culprit’s motives and intentions without awaiting his trial—which unfortunately was not to take place in this world (see eventually my ultimate note).  But, of course, the most striking characteristic of the little obituary is that it contains not one reference to the glorious friendship that brightened the last months of John’s life.


My friend could not evoke the image of his father.  Similarly the King, who also was not quite three when his father King Alfin, died, was unable to recall his face, although oddly he did remember perfectly well the little monoplane of chocolate that he, a chubby babe, happened to be holding in that very last photograph (Christmas 1918) of the melancholy, riding-breeched aviator in whose lap he reluctantly and uncomfortably sprawled.


Alfin the Vague (1873-1918; regnal dates 1900-1918, but 1900-1919 in most biographical dictionaries, a fumble due to the coincident calendar change from Old Style to New) was given his cognomen by Amphitheatricus, a not unkindly writer of fugitive poetry in the liberal gazettes (who was also responsible for dubbing my capital Uranograd!).  King Alfin'’ absent-mindedness knew no bounds.  He was a wretched linguist having at his disposal only a few phrases of French and Danish, but every time he had to make a speech to his subjects-—o a group of gaping Zemblan yokels in some remote valley where he had crash-landed—some uncontrollable switch went into action in his mind, and he reverted to those phrases, flavoring them for topical sense with a little Latin.  Most of the anecdotes relating to his naďve fits of abstraction are too silly and indecent to sully these pages; but one of them that I do not thing especially funny induced such guffaws from Shade (and returned to me, via the Common Room, with such obscene accretions) that I feel inclined to give it hear as a sample (and as a corrective).  One summer before the first world war, when the emperor of a great foreign realm (I realize how few there are to choose from) was paying an extremely unusual and flattering visit to our little hard country, my father took him and a young Zemblan interpreter (whose sex I leave open) in a newly purchased custom-build car on a jaunt in the country side.  As usual, King Alfin traveled without a vestige of escort, and this, and his brisk driving, seemed to trouble his guest.  On their way back, some twenty miles from Onhava, King Alfin decided to stop for repairs.  While he tinkered with the motor, the emperor and the interpreter sought the shade of some pines by the highway, and only when King Alfin was back in Onhava, did he gradually realize from a reiteration of rather frantic questions that he had left somebody behind (“What emperor?” has remained his only memorable mot).  Generally speaking, in respect of any of my contributions (or what I thought to be contributions) I repeatedly enjoined my poet to record them in writing, by all means, but not to spread them in idle speech; even poets, however, are human.


King Alfin’s absent-mindedness was strangely combined with a passion for mechanical things, especially for flying apparatuses.  In 1912, he managed to rise in an umbrella-like Fabre “hydroplane” and almost go drowned in the sea between Nitra and Indra.  He smashed two Farmans, three Zemblan machines, and a beloved Santos Dumont Demoiselle.  A very special monoplane, Blenda IV, was built for him in 1916 by his constant “aerial adjutant,” Colonel Peter Gusev (later a pioneer parachutist and, at seventy, one of the greatest jumpers of all time), and this was his bird of doom.  On the serene, and not too cold, December morning that the angels chose to net his mild pure soul, King Alfin was in the act of trying solo a tricky vertical loop that Prince Andrey Kachurin, the famous Russian stunter and War One hero, had shown him in Gatchina.  Something went wrong, and the little Blenda was seen to go into an uncontrolled dive.  Behind and above him, in a Caudron biplane, Colonel Gusev (by then Duke of Rahl) and the Queen snapped several pictures of what seemed at first a noble and graceful evolution but then turned into something else.  At the last moment, King Alfin managed to straighten out his machine and was again master of gravity when, immediately afterwards, he flew smack into the scaffolding of a huge hotel which was being constructed in the middle of a coastal heath as if for the special purpose of standing in a king’s way.  This uncompleted and badly gutted building was ordered razed by Queen Blenda who had it replaced by a tasteless monument of granite surrounded by an improbably type of aircraft made of bronze.  The glossy prints of the enlarged photographs depicting the entire catastrophe were discovered one day by eight-year-old Charles Xavier in the drawer of a secretary bookcase.  In some of these ghastly pictures one could make out the shoulders and leathern casque of the strangely unconcerned aviator, and in the penultimate one of the series, just before the white-blurred shattering crash, one distinctly saw him raise one are in triumph and reassurance.  The boy had hideous dreams after that but his mother never found out that he had seen those infernal records.


Her he remembered—more or less:  a horsewoman, tall, broad, stout, ruddy-faced.  She had been assured by a royal cousin that her son would be safe and happy under the tutelage of admirable Mr. Campbell who had taught several dutiful little princesses to spread butterflies and enjoy Lord Ronald’s Coronach.  He had immolated his life, so to speak, at the portable altars of a vast number of hobbies, from the study of book mites to bear hunting, and could reel off Macbeth from beginning to end during hikes; but he did not give a damn for his charges’ morals, preferred ladies to laddies, and did not meddle in the complexities of Zemblan ingledom.  He left, for some exotic court, after a ten-year stay, in 1932 when our Prince, aged seventeen, had begun dividing his time between the University and his regiment.  It was the nicest period of his life.  He never could decide what he enjoyed more:  the study of poetry—especially English poetry—or attending parades, or dancing in masquerades with boy-girls and girl-boys.  His mother died suddenly on July 21, 1936, from an obscure blood ailment that had also afflicted her mother and grandmother.  She had been much better on the day before—and Charles Xavier had gone to an all-night ball in the so-called Ducal Dome in Grindelwod:  for the nonce, a formal heterosexual affair, rather refreshing after some previous sport.  At about four in the morning, with the sun enflaming the tree crests and Mt. Falk, a pink cone, the King stopped his powerful car at one of the gates of the palace.  The air was so delicate, the light so lyrical, that he and the three friends he had with him decided to walk through the linden bosquet the rest of the distance to the Pavonian Pavilion where guests were lodged.  He and Otar, a platonic pal, wore tails but they had lost their top hats to the highway winds.  A strange something struck all four of them as they stood under the young limes in the prim landscape of scarp and counterscarp fortified by shadow and countershadow.  Otar, a pleasant and cultured adeling with a tremendous nose and sparse hair, had his two mistresses with him, eighteen-year-old Fifalda (whom he later married) and seventeen-year-old Fleur (whom we shall meet in two other notes), daughters of Countess de Fyler, the Queen’s favorite lady in waiting.  One involuntarily lingers over that picture, as one does when standing at a vantage point of time and knowing in retrospect that in a moment one’s life would undergo a complete change.  So there was Otar, looking with a puzzled expression at the distant windows of the Queen’s quarters, and there were the two girls, side by side, thin-legged, in shimmering wraps, their kitten noses pink, their eyes green and sleepy, their earrings catching and loosing the fire of the sun.  There were a few people around, as there always were, no matter the hour, at this gate, along which a road, connecting with the Eastern highway, ran.  A peasant woman with a small cake she had baked, doubtlessly the mother of the sentinel who had not yet come to relieve the unshaven dark young nattdett (child of night) in his dreary sentry box, sat on a spur of stone watching in feminine fascination the luciola-like tapers that moved from window to window; two workmen, holding their bicycles, stood staring too at those strange lights; and a drunk with a walrus mustache kept staggering around and patting the trunks of the lindens.  One picks up minor items at such slowdowns of life.  The King noticed that some reddish mud flecked the frames of the two bicycles and that their front wheels were both turned in the same direction, parallel to one another.  Suddenly, down a steep path among the lilac bushes—a short cut from the Queen’s quarters—the Countess came running and tripping over the hem of her quilted robe, and at the same moment, from another side of the palace, all seven councilors, dressed in their formal splendor and carrying like plum cakes replicas of various regalia, came striding down the stairs of stone, in dignified haste, but she beat them by one alin and spat out the news.  The drunk started to sing a ribald ballad about “Karlie-Garlie” and fell into the demilune ditch.  It is not easy to describe lucidly in short notes to a poem the various approaches to a fortified castle, and so, in my awareness of this problem, I prepared for John Shade, some time in June, when narrating to him the events briefly noticed in some of my comments (see note to line 130, for example), a rather handsomely drawn plan of the chambers, terraces, bastions and pleasure grounds of the Onhava Palace.  Unless it has been destroyed or stolen, this careful picture in colored inks on a large (thirty by twenty inches) piece of cardboard might still be where I last saw it in mid-July, on the top of the big black trunk, opposite the old mangle, in a niche of the little corridor leading to the so-called fruit room.  If it is not there, it might be looked for in his upper-floor study.  I have written about this to Mrs. Shade but she does not reply to my letters.  In case it still exists, I wish to beg her, without raising my voice, and very humbly, as humbly as the lowliest of the King’s subjects might plead for an immediate restitution of his rights (the plan is mine and is clearly signed with a black chess-king crown after “Kinbote”), to send it, well packed, marked not to be bent on the wrapper, and by registered mail, to my publisher for reproduction in later editions of this work.  Whatever energy I possessed has quite ebbed away lately, and these excruciating headaches now make impossible the mnemonic effort and eye strain that the drawing of another such plan would demand.  The black trunk stands on another brown or brownish even larger one, and there is I think a stuffed fox or coyote next to them in their dark corner.

Back Next